Session #31 began in the desert. We’d left the sanctuary of the Redwood Curtain, survived driving south through the Central Valley on the 5, 100-degree heat and feedlot smells permeating through the AC. As we drove into my hometown, my body tensed involuntarily. Some people find the desert beautiful and I understand that, but my need to be near the ocean manifests in physical ache when deprived. I’d arranged for us to return up the coast with a stay in Santa Cruz, had packed wetsuits with the intention to rent boards when we arrived there. Knowing the comfort of a surf was on the other side helped keep me sane through the inland weather.

A friend who lives in the Santa Cruz mountains agreed to go out with us. The nearest working break was the famed Steamer Lane. Given Santa Cruz’s reputation for localism, she and I opted to sit on the edges hoping to score some scraps. (Nick paddled into the thick of the action.) Our plan worked. Granted, wave count was low, but while waiting, the Lane proper served up a real-life surf flick, hotshots taking off on the right point break with seemingly no regard for the rock cliff and maneuvering across the wave face with just as little acknowledgement of gravity or normal human physics.

The kid scored more waves than anyone.

Seals played King-of-the-Hill as well, their cacophony bouncing across the water without cease. The sets came in overhead, broke against the reef and rock, glassed out by the kelp that tangled around my leash, startled my hands while paddling. Otters hang out there, but I didn’t see one till we’d returned to the cliffs, changed out of our suits.

Without the crowd, Steamer Lane would’ve been my dream spot — but that’s a classic sensation, right? It’s exactly its dreaminess that makes it so crowded.

Kaylee took photos from the cliff.

The hardest part was getting out of the water. A staircase leads down into a pile of rocks, from which you launch yourself into the ocean between sets. Exiting requires climbing out on the rocks without losing your balance, getting smacked off your feet by oncoming waves or damaging your board against the rocks. Since I had an epoxy rental, my concern over the board was minimal, but my fear of slipping on seaweed-covered rocks had my legs quaking.

The first steps were the worst, waves flooding in and sucking back around my feet as I strove to find a rough spot to step, using the board for balance and sure I’d tumble. The lack of booties didn’t help — I didn’t need them for warmth in the slightly more temperate climes of the Central Coast, but I’m such a tenderfoot, walking barefoot over rocks was sending “ow ow ow ow” signals through my brain. But after that rough start, I navigated up and out, caught my breath and wrapped up my first-ever session in Santa Cruz.

Watching these guys take off next to the cliff freaked me out.

#32: A chilly return to Camel Rock. Well, Sixth Avenue, technically. Small, mushy waves breaking near Wash Rock and down toward Moonstone reminding of learning to surf in that same spot. With a lot of the same people around. With nostalgia providing the only warmth as my gloveless hands ached from paddling through frigid water and my holey wetsuit letting too much icy ocean flush through, I only lasted about 30 minutes before deciding the oft-shoulderless waves weren’t worth the pain. When I found myself on one of the more nicely shaped swells as it turned into a wave that offered up a decent amount of face time, I took it to shore and called the day good.